It is a very satisfying journey for an author when a book she despaired would never see the light of day with all its convoluted plots and characters who spun off in directions of their own choosing (with nary a thought to the birth pangs their creator was experiencing), finally gets published.
This is the most massive project I have undertaken on print. The challenge was to imbue the protagonists with lifelike personalities. Motivations had to run true consistent with who they were and what they were aiming to achieve.
Mercedes might resemble Madddie but her essence, her spirit differs. I had to encapsulate that difference in words.
Also to keep the suspense running as an undercurrent I had no avenue to offer the reader a peek into the mind of the villains. It was hard to resist- but resist I did and mightily. The action jumps off the page at you and you go at it as surprised as the characters. Hopefully you are sitting on the edge of your seat biting your nails rooting for true love.
A new technique I have used to add yet another dimension to the story is the quotes from Mer’s travelogues and Maddie’s poems. Mer’s hard headed common sense and Maddie’s dreaminess will hopefully make you laugh and fall in love a little more.
So if they are so different what is the common element unifying them? They are both women of strength. If Mer does not hesitate to call a spade a spade, Maddie’s poetry packs its own get-to-it punch.
Stolen from her family
From all those say nay
I have rights for robbed first
Tonight I will make her pay
The duke offered his arm to Lady Charlotte inviting her to explore the charming ruins of the old abbey with him. She arose gracefully, assenting to his request. Not that, Maddie reflected contemptuously, the poor girl was given any choice.
“Lord Benedict,” Maddie arose before she could let fear undermine her line of offense, “I do believe I saw some charming blue wildflowers the last time I was here. Would you know what they are called?”
Lord Benedict arose swiftly taking the broad hint and Maddie set off in the duke’s wake. Lord Benedict and Lord Robert were both landowners and neighbors of the duke. They had been invited to join the house party for the day. While Lord Robert had military tastes, Lord Benedict was an academician and ardent student of Botany.
The duke and Charlotte walked at a desultory pace. Charlotte was making a big show of looking at the moss covered walls and exclaiming at the periwinkle blue of the sky.
“Periwinkles,” Maddie exclaimed as if recalling the name, “that’s what those blue flowers must be for aren’t periwinkles blue, Lord Benedict?”
She turned just as they were close to the duke and jabbed her closed parasol on Lord Benedict’s stomach as if by accident.
Then she pretended to stumble and fell backwards into the duke’s arms that held her more as a self-defense instinct than out of any genuine desire to hold her. She ruthlessly twisted her ankle and moaned aloud, “Oh dear!”
She sank down like a dead weight and the ducal grouch let her, dirtying the pretty gown that frothed around her in a delightful puddle of color.
She turned and clutched at the duke’s blue coat of superfine, holding on for dear life, “Your Grace my ankle is twisted,” she informed the fourth button on his waistcoat.
She would show him surfeit, she thought venomously, he had no idea he had unleashed the Maddie plague on himself.
“Well now,” he said to her in his calm I-am-the-almighty-duke voice, “so you have, Lady Maude. So you have.”
If that was his idea of showing sympathy, she thought glaring balefully, the man needed direction.
“Oh Maddie,” Charlotte looked at her bewildered, “what happened to you?”
“May I help,” offered poor Lord Benedict who had forgotten his injury as nobody was paying any attention.
“Perhaps I can carry you back to the blanket,” offered Lord Trace, the new entrant to the stage Maddie had set.
“Y-your Grace,” Maddie had no other course but to look up in his eyes as her fingers clutched him harder, “It hurts. Please don’t let me go.”
Gray eyes regarded her inscrutably for a long drawn out moment and then she was suddenly hoisted up in the duke’s arms. His gray eyes locked her hazel ones and the shock of being in his arms hit her. His arms were like bands of steel.
“T-Trace,” Maddie had the presence of mind to call around his shoulder, “why don’t you show Lady Charlotte the ruins?” She raised her head and bared her teeth in the grimace of a smile at Lord Benedict, “I would hate to ruin the day for everyone.”
Lord Benedict looked morose walking along, her parasol in his hand.
“Did I hurt you,” the concern for him was sincere and he hastily reassured her that he was not hurt.
“A mere trifle my dear lady and of absolutely no consequence at all.”
The duke examined Maddie’s ankle, his fingers probing her stocking covered foot. A dark lock of raven black hair fell across his forehead and his lips were a thin, tight line. She shivered at his stern expression wondering if she should moan.
“How is the pain?”
“What,” Maddie asked him blankly, conscious of his warm palm wrapped around her trim ankle. She had no idea a man’s touch evoked weird shivery sensations.
“Your ankle is not swollen,” the duke pointed out, “and,” he held the toes of her foot by his other hand as he swiveled the foot first to the left and then to the right, “feel the motion. It means no bone is broken. So I am assuming soon the pain will subside if it has not subsided already.”
“It has not,” Maddie was definite on that point, “it er comes and goes…”
“Throbbing,” the dowager supplied the word helpfully.
“Yes,” Maddie nodded earnest, “it is a throbbing pain.”
“Well stay off your feet for some time,” the duke advised releasing her foot and starting to arise. That would not do at all.
Maddie panicked, “how do you know so much?”
The duke studied her with hooded eyes. “I assume we are talking about the sprained ankle?”
What on earth could he mean by that odd remark? It was simply not possible for him to fathom the sprain was faked.
“When I was in the war, I saw my share of wounded men and horses.”
“One time my horse sprained his ankle,” Lord Robert took the conversational cue and began running. The duke sat by the dowager’s side patiently listening. He did not return to seek out Charlotte’s company.
Maddie leant back on the bark of a tree supremely satisfied with the day’s work.
“Dear Maddie,” chattered Charlotte inanely, “do you think she is badly hurt?”
“Only her dignity, I believe,” Lord Trace murmured cryptically.
Lady Charlotte thought she could ask him to explain but did not. Of late she was finding a broad yellow streak in her previously invincible armor.
“Where do these steps lead to,” Charlotte pointed to the narrow winding stone steps.
“I believe it was the bell tower. The climb might be dangerous and um,” Trace halted as she tackled the stairs with a dangerous disregard to life and limb.
“Maddie wants to sprain ankles and you have a penchant for wanting to break your neck I presume,” Lord Trace told her when he caught up with her at the top of the tower. She stood with her back to him admiring the view.
“Pooh,” Charlotte snorted, “I watch out for my neck just as well as the next person.” She turned to look at him considering, “though if you find these heights dizzying you could wait for me below.”
Lord what was the matter with her tongue! Did she not know better than to provoke a dangerous man? Evidently, thought Charlotte as a thrill shot up her system at the look in his glinting eyes, she did not.
He moved closer than propriety dictated but she did not step back. She was a coward but he could not know that, she reasoned.
“Look,” she presented him her back. It was easier to converse if she did not have to look him in the eye. “The others look like midgets from up here.”
He stepped closer.
“What a pretty view,” she gasped resisting the urge to run, “one can see for miles and miles,” she waved a hand to encompass the meandering silver glint of the river, verdant rolling meadows and the farmlands.
He caught her hand in his right one and with his left at her waist he swiveled her, “look there,” he pointed her hand helpfully. “Can you see Windermere Hall by the cluster of those trees?”
She was acutely conscious of her hazy vision and his body heat, “I-I c-can?”
It sounded like a question breathy and whispery. He did not let her go and he should have. Her head turned in his direction without her having any conscious thought of doing so.
Sapphire blue eyes were laughing at her. “Beautiful,” he murmured.
‘Kiss me,’ she silently pleaded with her eyes.
His eyes dipped to linger on her lips.
There was a sudden flutter around them as two gray pigeons suddenly took wing.
With a muffled oath he released her, stepping back.
Charlotte was hurt by the rejection as much as she was offended by the implication that Lord Trace did not want to be attracted to her.
“What is your interest in the poet Maudlin?”
“I beg your pardon, Lady Charlotte. Perhaps I will wait for you to join me downstairs. I find the height has made me a trifle dizzy.”
“The duke set you up to ask Roark, didn’t he?” Charlotte was persistent like a dog with a bone as she followed on his heels.
Lord Trace ignored her.
“Will you let him use you to manipulate me?” Charlotte demanded furiously.
She scored. He stopped on the stair and turned. “Manipulate you? From where we stand all the cards are in your father’s hand. Besides why do you complain? Most women would give their eyeteeth to be mistress of Windermere Hall.”
“I am not most women,” she retorted. “I do not care to be a duchess.”
“Oops, I forgot,” he smacked his head. “You want a- what was the word Rupert used? Aah yes! Consuming passion…”
She was stung by his mockery. “I will not let you belittle my dream.” She charged ahead and punched him hard on his stomach. He did not flinch but his eyes watered.
“Let me tell you,” she glared at him fiercely, “the man I marry will not need titles or lands. He will be my king and he will be the richest man in the world for he holds the treasure of my love. I will give him many children and he will know heaven on earth.
Yes, I am offering consuming passion Lord Trace. What do you or, your duke have to offer? Lies- deceptions- charades?”
She punctuated each word with a jab of her finger on his chest.
Lord Trace took the punishment without a murmur of protest.
“Oh move aside.” Charlotte pushed past him upset that his lack of resistance was draining her anger.
Lord Trace came out of his stupor to spy the hem of her gown and the turn of a neat ankle as she disappeared round the bend in a huff.
He took the steps two at a time after her. Just as he caught up with her he saw her twin amble into view.
“Ah there you are,” Roark hailed them with a pleasant smile as if he could neither sense the tense atmosphere around him nor see the set look on their grim faces.
“How is the view from up there?”
“Roark you must not tease Lord Trace,” chided Charlotte in a loving tone of voice as if the virago Trace had seen mere moments ago was a figment of his imagination. “He is terribly frightened of heights.”
“Ah vertigo,” Roark diagnosed succinctly with a pitying look and if he had not been her twin, Trace would have done him bodily harm.
Hours later Trace was still seething.
“Will your grace command me any service to the world’s end? I will go on the slightest errand now to the Antipodes that you can devise to send me on; I will fetch you a tooth-picker now from the furthest inch of Asia, bring you the length of Prester John’s foot, fetch you a hair off the great Cham’s beard, do you any embassage to the Pigmies, rather than hold three words’ conference with this harpy. You have no employment for me?” He read aloud from the book in his hand as Vane entered the room.
Vane did not answer, nor did Trace expect him to.
“Act II, Scene I, Lines 271-279 from Much Ado about Nothing,” Trace enlightened the duke of his own accord, “is the title not significant? I believe we are making a great deal out of nothing too. Just marry the girl, Vane. She is perfect.”
“So it would seem,” the duke assented cryptically.
“Hang me in a bottle like a cat and shoot at me,” Lord Trace intoned wearily closing the book and placing it with a thump on the duke’s desk, “Shakespeare packs quite a punch here. Makes one wonder, you know?”
The duke arched a brow interrogatively.
“What kind of woman was she to haunt the poor man so? Point bears investigating, my dear cousin. Might have been Lady Charlotte’s ancestress for all you know.”
“So you want me to marry her or, you don’t want me to marry her,” the duke asked him.